World Food Day: what hunger looks like
Walking into a village suffering from severe malnutrition, the first thing that hits you is the lethargy, the torpor.
Children that should be running around playing or teasing each other at school are instead resting against trees, staring listlessly – they don’t have the energy to play.
Mothers are slumped, exhausted, with babies nestled to their breast, dully grinding the last of their millet or rice. You can taste the despair, along with the sand and the heat.
You talk to children, to families, and you learn what hunger is.
Hunger is tying your stomach with rope in a desperate attempt to ward off the worst of the hunger, as ten-year-old Ala’a’s father did. It meant he didn’t feel so hungry and he gave his last food to Ala’a.
It’s a mother, so desperate to feed her child that she scrapes bark and gum from dying trees. It shreds her fingers, staining them yellow first, then a bloodied red. She doesn’t pause.
It takes all day and tomorrow she takes the gum to the market. It should sell for enough money to keep her child alive for another two days.
It’s a tiny, malnourished boy named Salat who weighs so little that when placed into my hands, I feel as if I am holding four birds. Salat is too weak to eat, too weak to walk and simply lies in my arms. His face is gaunt, aged.
Marasmus and Kwashiorkor
‘Marasmus’ is the technical term for extreme thinness. Thin, flaccid skin hangs in folds, the ribs and spine stick out, and hauntingly, the face that stares at you is an old man’s face.
‘Kwashiorkor’ is Marasmus’ twin – when a child develops swelling (called ‘oedema’) which starts in both feet and works its way up the body.
It looks puffy due to extra fluid inside. It’s also extremely painful. It can lead to the skin breaking down and the child having a ‘moon face’. Sometimes the hair changes colour, becoming thin, easily breakable and orangey.
No-one knows why some children develop Marasmus, and others Kwashiorkor – and they’re not mutually exclusive.
Some children suffer both and are at very high risk of death. They need extremely high levels of care, and they need it immediately.
Fighting the causes of hunger
Save the Children teams treat the symptoms of underlying hunger, in thousands of feeding centres, in hundreds of hospitals all around the world. And at the same time we’re also fighting the causes of hunger.
It’s not enough to stop a child being hungry, if the next day, the next week or the next year the whole family will face starvation again. If Salat and Ala’a and millions like them are doomed to perpetual hunger.
That’s why we’re asking David Cameron to lead the world on delivering in delivering real change – a real commitment to tackling world hunger once and for all.
Join us in the race against hunger. It’s a fight worth having.